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January/February 2020

Editor’s Note: Technology Not a Cure-All
By Lee DeOrio
For The Record
Vol. 32 No. 1 P. 4

As I write this, autofill software is anticipating my thoughts. The words flow abundantly, making this the most carefree editor’s note of my career. I began this exercise with no thought of a topic, just a desire to see where modern technology would take me. You could say it’s journalism’s version of artificial intelligence, which so happens to be making inroads into health care as well.

Much like patients and health care professionals when it comes to AI, I’m somewhat leery of continuing on in this fashion. I’ve noticed already that my initial reference to artificial intelligence was not followed by the acronym in parenthesis, a custom we employ here at for the record. Ah, there it goes again; this time, a failure to capitalize and italicize.

Speaking of failure, the point of this probably misguided attempt was to raise awareness about how technology can disrupt the health care continuum in often unintended ways. Then, if things go wrong, there’s a ready-made excuse for users. For example, at a clinical documentation improvement session at AHIMA19, an HIM director spoke about her problems with physicians taking responsibility for chart errors when speech recognition is involved, offering this mind-numbing quote from a physician that drew both gasps and giggles from the audience: “I am not responsible for errors contained in the text.”

For years, the HIM profession has been preaching the need for chart reviews with speech recognition but, probably not unsurprisingly, the message is not reaching enough physicians. Or, worse yet, they choose to ignore it. After all, the technology is responsible for providing the documentation.

Which brings us to computer-assisted (some are now referring to it as AI-enhanced) coding. Here, much of the same dynamic is at play. Recommendations and guidelines urging coders to read the entire chart and not to take computer-generated codes for granted aren’t always adhered to. Many believe that just as I’m typing and the words being produced sing like spring, so, too, do codes sprout like moles and result in resplendent reimbursement in coding departments across the land. Ah, could be fool’s gold, right?

The best coders are in tune with charts. They get a feel for a patient’s history and act accordingly. They’re the hands-on bunch who know that technology can sometimes lead to laziness, a trap they deftly avoid through the love of their profession. It’s worked for years like that and will continue on in that fashion until we’re all being treated by robots.